The spring’s banks, the closed eye, and Pierre’s faith
|April 27, 2014||Posted by Koanic under Christianity, Learning Koanic Soul|
If I had to select three silmarils from all literature, The King James Bible and Tolstoy’s War and Peace would be two. I’m open to suggestions for the third.
I have made three small refinements to the koan system described in the previous post, which greatly increase my productivity and peace.
Here are the updated pics:
1. Added a closed eye beneath the “suffer” cluster.
2. Deleted the hourglass in the middle; replaced it with a circle.
3. The word “Faith” is split between the top and bottom of the right hand.
** Circular banks of the little spring
Every great river begins at a little spring. Likewise, the torrent of my thought and action can proceed from a single act of will.
The spring need not concern itself with carving great channels, flooding and receding, eroding banks, fanning into deltas, joining the sea. These are the affairs of the river. It need only quietly bubble up, as it has always done.
Likewise, my sole act of overmind will is to bubble up tongues into the little circle of the switchboard. When my will exists, that is what it does. And when it becomes too eager, imagining itself potent and mighty to shape the world directly, I restrain it, circumscribing it within the bounds of its little circle.
When the bubbling is too weak to fill one of the channels leading out of the circle, nothing further happens. When it is stronger, one of the four koan clusters is activated. Appropriate actions and states of being follow naturally.
** The closed eye
Temptation and time wasters – failure to adhere to work ethic – where does it begin? How to stop it?
The first iteration of the “suffer” cluster intended to achieve a Clockwork Orange negative conditioning effect. Channel the tongues to generate internal suffering until the undesirable behavior ceases.
But in extreme exhaustion, this arbitrary infliction of self-punishment cannot be sustained long, if at all. So I shortened the duration of suffering, giving myself an easy out – merely close my physical eyes. Meditate, rest, nap, etc, until the exhaustion passes.
But what good is meditation and rest, if the overmind continues uselessly churning on irrelevant temptations and diversions? The negative impulse remains at the fore, and is soon indulged again.
Therefore it is not action that must be controlled, but thought, which leads to action. The New Testament exhorts us to “take every thought captive”. An impossible aim. Who can avoid thinking of pink elephants?
And yet it is possible. It is not necessary to avoid initiating unproductive thoughts – that is impossible. It is necessary only to close these loops when they arise, rather than helplessly letting them persist in running their endless course.
The slight impetus of the “tongues-switchboard -> suffer” sequence is insufficient to stop action directly. But it is enough to silence thought loops. And without the thought loop, the negative action, robbed of its impetus, soon ceases. Whereas, if the negative behavior is fought downstream at the level of physical action, its strength is constantly renewed by the unassailed thought loop.
Thus do I control my obsessions. But the constant inappropriate grasping of the overmind does many kinds of damage beyond creating bad habits. Thus the resulting thought hygiene has manifold benefits.
** Pierre’s faith
This last piece completes my goals of well-being and humanity. Like the “conditions of life” cluster, it is from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I owe him so much. To me he is the ultimate TT – king occipital. My ideological melon brain could never have synthesized all of life as his organic and concrete occipital has done. I would have been doomed to wander, a mismatch half-breed, tortured by deepsock, yet without the mental hardware to ease my own pain. I am constitutionally incapable of reaching the answer he reached, and yet it is the only possible solution.
One must simply read the book. Slog through the first part, mixing up the characters, until gradually they clarify and separate. Suffer the indignity of the foamy surf, and you will reach the great waves that irresistibly roll from the expansive, profound and infinite sea.
War and Peace makes historians feebleminded, novelists like shallow pools, and essayists like daytime TV commercials.
I pass over Kutuzov’s story, and the Karetaev episode, to get at the crux of Tolstoy’s view of faith, fully revealed in Pierre’s epiphany. In this passage, Pierre finds himself no longer a prisoner, and Tolstoy writes his essay on faith – a thing I never understood:
A joyous feeling of freedom- that complete inalienable freedom natural to man which he had first experienced at the first halt outside Moscow- filled Pierre’s soul during his convalescence. He was surprised to find that this inner freedom, which was independent of external conditions, now had as it were an additional setting of external liberty. He was alone in a strange town, without acquaintances. No one demanded anything of him or sent him anywhere. He had all he wanted: the thought of his wife which had been a continual torment to him was no longer there, since she was no more.
“Oh, how good! How splendid!” said he to himself when a cleanly laid table was moved up to him with savory beef tea, or when he lay down for the night on a soft clean bed, or when he remembered that the French had gone and that his wife was no more. “Oh, how good, how splendid!”
And by old habit he asked himself the question: “Well, and what then? What am I going to do?” And he immediately gave himself the answer: “Well, I shall live. Ah, how splendid!”
The very question that had formerly tormented him, the thing he had continually sought to find- the aim of life- no longer existed for him now. That search for the aim of life had not merely disappeared temporarily- he felt that it no longer existed for him and could not present itself again. And this very absence of an aim gave him the complete, joyous sense of freedom which constituted his happiness at this time.
He could not see an aim, for he now had faith- not faith in any kind of rule, or words, or ideas, but faith in an ever-living, ever-manifest God. Formerly he had sought Him in aims he set himself. That search for an aim had been simply a search for God, and suddenly in his captivity he had learned not by words or reasoning but by direct feeling what his nurse had told him long ago: that God is here and everywhere. In his captivity he had learned that in Karataev God was greater, more infinite and unfathomable than in the Architect of the Universe recognized by the Freemasons. He felt like a man who after straining his eyes to see into the far distance finds what he sought at his very feet. All his life he had looked over the heads of the men around him, when he should have merely looked in front of him without straining his eyes.
In the past he had never been able to find that great inscrutable infinite something. He had only felt that it must exist somewhere and had looked for it. In everything near and comprehensible he had only what was limited, petty, commonplace, and senseless. He had equipped himself with a mental telescope and looked into remote space, where petty worldliness hiding itself in misty distance had seemed to him great and infinite merely because it was not clearly seen. And such had European life, politics, Freemasonry, philosophy, and philanthropy seemed to him. But even then, at moments of weakness as he had accounted them, his mind had penetrated to those distances and he had there seen the same pettiness, worldliness, and senselessness. Now, however, he had learned to see the great, eternal, and infinite in everything, and therefore- to see it and enjoy its contemplation- he naturally threw away the telescope through which he had till now gazed over men’s heads, and gladly regarded the ever-changing, eternally great, unfathomable, and infinite life around him. And the closer he looked the more tranquil and happy he became. That dreadful question, “What for?” which had formerly destroyed all his mental edifices, no longer existed for him. To that question, “What for?” a simple answer was now always ready in his soul: “Because there is a God, that God without whose will not one hair falls from a man’s head.”
I read this in conjunction with Opera Vita Aeterna, and with knowledge of kingdom theology and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Yet Tolstoy’s is the great psychological truth – not the question of evil, or of man’s purpose on a fallen Earth, or how God may intervene on the Silent Planet – but of the correct psychological attitude and experience, from which right action and feeling can flow.
Some things belong at the heart’s core, and others at the intellectual map periphery – this belongs at the core.
Understanding faith, Pierre becomes like Kutuzov and Karataev – wise and good.
In external ways Pierre had hardly changed at all. In appearance he was just what he used to be. As before he was absent-minded and seemed occupied not with what was before his eyes but with something special of his own. The difference between his former and present self was that formerly when he did not grasp what lay before him or was said to him, he had puckered his forehead painfully as if vainly seeking to distinguish something at a distance. At present he still forgot what was said to him and still did not see what was before his eyes, but he now looked with a scarcely perceptible and seemingly ironic smile at what was before him and listened to what was said, though evidently seeing and hearing something quite different. Formerly he had appeared to be a kindhearted but unhappy man, and so people had been inclined to avoid him. Now a smile at the joy of life always played round his lips, and sympathy for others, shone in his eyes with a questioning look as to whether they were as contented as he was, and people felt pleased by his presence.
Previously he had talked a great deal, grew excited when he talked, and seldom listened; now he was seldom carried away in conversation and knew how to listen so that people readily told him their most intimate secrets.
The princess, who had never liked Pierre and had been particularly hostile to him since she had felt herself under obligations to him after the old count’s death, now after staying a short time in Orel- where she had come intending to show Pierre that in spite of his ingratitude she considered it her duty to nurse him- felt to her surprise and vexation that she had become fond of him. Pierre did not in any way seek her approval, he merely studied her with interest. Formerly she had felt that he regarded her with indifference and irony, and so had shrunk into herself as she did with others and had shown him only the combative side of her nature; but now he seemed to be trying to understand the most intimate places of her heart, and, mistrustfully at first but afterwards gratefully, she let him see the hidden, kindly sides of her character.
The most cunning man could not have crept into her confidence more successfully, evoking memories of the best times of her youth and showing sympathy with them. Yet Pierre’s cunning consisted simply in finding pleasure in drawing out the human qualities of the embittered, hard, and (in her own way) proud princess.
“Yes, he is a very, very kind man when he is not under the influence of bad people but of people such as myself,” thought she.
His servants too- Terenty and Vaska- in their own way noticed the change that had taken place in Pierre. They considered that he had become much “simpler.” Terenty, when he had helped him undress and wished him good night, often lingered with his master’s boots in his hands and clothes over his arm, to see whether he would not start a talk. And Pierre, noticing that Terenty wanted a chat, generally kept him there.
“Well, tell me… now, how did you get food?” he would ask.
And Terenty would begin talking of the destruction of Moscow, and of the old count, and would stand for a long time holding the clothes and talking, or sometimes listening to Pierre’s stories, and then would go out into the hall with a pleasant sense of intimacy with his master and affection for him.
The doctor who attended Pierre and visited him every day, though he considered it his duty as a doctor to pose as a man whose every moment was of value to suffering humanity, would sit for hours with Pierre telling him his favorite anecdotes and his observations on the characters of his patients in general, and especially of the ladies.
“It’s a pleasure to talk to a man like that; he is not like our provincials,” he would say.
There were several prisoners from the French army in Orel, and the doctor brought one of them, a young Italian, to see Pierre.
This officer began visiting Pierre, and the princess used to make fun of the tenderness the Italian expressed for him.
The Italian seemed happy only when he could come to see Pierre, talk with him, tell him about his past, his life at home, and his love, and pour out to him his indignation against the French and especially against Napoleon.
“If all Russians are in the least like you, it is sacrilege to fight such a nation,” he said to Pierre. “You, who have suffered so from the French, do not even feel animosity toward them.”
Pierre had evoked the passionate affection of the Italian merely by evoking the best side of his nature and taking a pleasure in so doing.
During the last days of Pierre’s stay in Orel his old Masonic acquaintance Count Willarski, who had introduced him to the lodge in 1807, came to see him. Willarski was married to a Russian heiress who had a large estate in Orel province, and he occupied a temporary post in the commissariat department in that town.
Hearing that Bezukhov was in Orel, Willarski, though they had never been intimate, came to him with the professions of friendship and intimacy that people who meet in a desert generally express for one another. Willarski felt dull in Orel and was pleased to meet a man of his own circle and, as he supposed, of similar interests.
But to his surprise Willarski soon noticed that Pierre had lagged much behind the times, and had sunk, as he expressed it to himself, into apathy and egotism.
“You are letting yourself go, my dear fellow,” he said.
But for all that Willarski found it pleasanter now than it had been formerly to be with Pierre, and came to see him every day. To Pierre as he looked at and listened to Willarski, it seemed strange to think that he had been like that himself but a short time before.
Willarski was a married man with a family, busy with his family affairs, his wife’s affairs, and his official duties. He regarded all these occupations as hindrances to life, and considered that they were all contemptible because their aim was the welfare of himself and his family. Military, administrative, political, and Masonic interests continually absorbed his attention. And Pierre, without trying to change the other’s views and without condemning him, but with the quiet, joyful, and amused smile now habitual to him, was interested in this strange though very familiar phenomenon.
There was a new feature in Pierre’s relations with Willarski, with the princess, with the doctor, and with all the people he now met, which gained for him the general good will. This was his acknowledgment of the impossibility of changing a man’s convictions by words, and his recognition of the possibility of everyone thinking, feeling, and seeing things each from his own point of view. This legitimate peculiarity of each individual which used to excite and irritate Pierre now became a basis of the sympathy he felt for, and the interest he took in, other people. The difference, and sometimes complete contradiction, between men’s opinions and their lives, and between one man and another, pleased him and drew from him an amused and gentle smile.
In practical matters Pierre unexpectedly felt within himself a center of gravity he had previously lacked. Formerly all pecuniary questions, especially requests for money to which, as an extremely wealthy man, he was very exposed, produced in him a state of hopeless agitation and perplexity. “To give or not to give?” he had asked himself. “I have it and he needs it. But someone else needs it still more. Who needs it most? And perhaps they are both impostors?” In the old days he had been unable to find a way out of all these surmises and had given to all who asked as long as he had anything to give. Formerly he had been in a similar state of perplexity with regard to every question concerning his property, when one person advised one thing and another something else.
Now to his surprise he found that he no longer felt either doubt or perplexity about these questions. There was now within him a judge who by some rule unknown to him decided what should or should not be done.
He was as indifferent as heretofore to money matters, but now he felt certain of what ought and what ought not to be done. The first time he had recourse to his new judge was when a French prisoner, a colonel, came to him and, after talking a great deal about his exploits, concluded by making what amounted to a demand that Pierre should give him four thousand francs to send to his wife and children. Pierre refused without the least difficulty or effort, and was afterwards surprised how simple and easy had been what used to appear so insurmountably difficult. At the same time that he refused the colonel’s demand he made up his mind that he must have recourse to artifice when leaving Orel, to induce the Italian officer to accept some money of which he was evidently in need. A further proof to Pierre of his own more settled outlook on practical matters was furnished by his decision with regard to his wife’s debts and to the rebuilding of his houses in and near Moscow.
His head steward came to him at Orel and Pierre reckoned up with him his diminished income. The burning of Moscow had cost him, according to the head steward’s calculation, about two million rubles.
To console Pierre for these losses the head steward gave him an estimate showing that despite these losses his income would not be diminished but would even be increased if he refused to pay his wife’s debts which he was under no obligation to meet, and did not rebuild his Moscow house and the country house on his Moscow estate, which had cost him eighty thousand rubles a year and brought in nothing.
“Yes, of course that’s true,” said Pierre with a cheerful smile. “I don’t need all that at all. By being ruined I have become much richer.”
But in January Savelich came from Moscow and gave him an account of the state of things there, and spoke of the estimate an architect had made of the cost of rebuilding the town and country houses, speaking of this as of a settled matter. About the same time he received letters from Prince Vasili and other Petersburg acquaintances speaking of his wife’s debts. And Pierre decided that the steward’s proposals which had so pleased him were wrong and that he must go to Petersburg and settle his wife’s affairs and must rebuild in Moscow. Why this was necessary he did not know, but he knew for certain that it was necessary. His income would be reduced by three fourths, but he felt it must be done.
Willarski was going to Moscow and they agreed to travel together.
During the whole time of his convalescence in Orel Pierre had experienced a feeling of joy, freedom, and life; but when during his journey he found himself in the open world and saw hundreds of new faces, that feeling was intensified. Throughout his journey he felt like a schoolboy on holiday. Everyone- the stagecoach driver, the post-house overseers, the peasants on the roads and in the villages- had a new significance for him. The presence and remarks of Willarski who continually deplored the ignorance and poverty of Russia and its backwardness compared with Europe only heightened Pierre’s pleasure. Where Willarski saw deadness Pierre saw an extraordinary strength and vitality- the strength which in that vast space amid the snows maintained the life of this original, peculiar, and unique people. He did not contradict Willarski and even seemed to agree with him- an apparent agreement being the simplest way to avoid discussions that could lead to nothing- and he smiled joyfully as he listened to him.
As a bonus, Tolstoy shows us that good women do exist – those marked by sorrow.
Natasha, leaning on her elbow, the expression of her face constantly changing with the narrative, watched Pierre with an attention that never wandered- evidently herself experiencing all that he described. Not only her look, but her exclamations and the brief questions she put, showed Pierre that she understood just what he wished to convey. It was clear that she understood not only what he said but also what he wished to, but could not, express in words. The account Pierre gave of the incident with the child and the woman for protecting whom he was arrested was this: “It was an awful sight- children abandoned, some in the flames… One was snatched out before my eyes… and there were women who had their things snatched off and their earrings torn out…” he flushed and grew confused. “Then a patrol arrived and all the men- all those who were not looting, that is- were arrested, and I among them.”
“I am sure you’re not telling us everything; I am sure you did something…” said Natasha and pausing added, “something fine?”
Pierre continued. When he spoke of the execution he wanted to pass over the horrible details, but Natasha insisted that he should not omit anything.
Pierre began to tell about Karataev, but paused. By this time he had risen from the table and was pacing the room, Natasha following him with her eyes. Then he added:
“No, you can’t understand what I learned from that illiterate man- that simple fellow.”
“Yes, yes, go on!” said Natasha. “Where is he?”
“They killed him almost before my eyes.”
And Pierre, his voice trembling continually, went on to tell of the last days of their retreat, of Karataev’s illness and his death.
He told of his adventures as he had never yet recalled them. He now, as it were, saw a new meaning in all he had gone through. Now that he was telling it all to Natasha he experienced that pleasure which a man has when women listen to him- not clever women who when listening either try to remember what they hear to enrich their minds and when opportunity offers to retell it, or who wish to adopt it to some thought of their own and promptly contribute their own clever comments prepared in their little mental workshop- but the pleasure given by real women gifted with a capacity to select and absorb the very best a man shows of himself. Natasha without knowing it was all attention: she did not lose a word, no single quiver in Pierre’s voice, no look, no twitch of a muscle in his face, nor a single gesture. She caught the unfinished word in its flight and took it straight into her open heart, divining the secret meaning of all Pierre’s mental travail.
Princess Mary understood his story and sympathized with him, but she now saw something else that absorbed all her attention. She saw the possibility of love and happiness between Natasha and Pierre, and the first thought of this filled her heart with gladness.
I split “Faith” across the two right-hand koans because it is inextricably linked with both the ingenopathic bond with God, and the open-hearted experience of life.